Great Glen Way Day 4

The Great Glen Way
By Mark Walford
Day Four

Route: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston
Date: Wednesday September 7th 2011
Distance: 8m (13km)
Elevation: 62ft (19m) to 341ft (104m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 1,194ft (364m) and 1,109ft (338m)

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See Route on ......

Bacon, eggs and real estate ....

I woke and wandered downstairs in time to hear the American lady telling her husband that she had had a ‘real scary’ dream and that she thought the place might be haunted. It sounded like wishful thinking on her part (if you ever want to stay in a haunted house in Scotland I can recommend a certain Victorian mansion in Keith ….) and her husband seemed to be taking next-to-no-notice of this revelation; she probably said it about every place they stayed in. I met her again a short while later as I was heading down to the lobby - she was about to climb the stairs but seeing me she stopped, beckoned, and exclaimed ‘Come on down!’. Bod, who was behind her, said I ought to have behaved like a contestant on The Price Is Right and dashed down the stairs, all waving arms and joyful abandonment.
We had a nice breakfast (the place was awarded a respectable 8.4 on our Pat Pending Rating System) whilst we chatted to the man of the house. They had moved to Fort William from the Midlands twenty years before, having no previous experience of running a guest house, and had never looked back. He detailed the many hurdles thrown at them by the Scottish property purchasing process, which differs radically from the English version and can be a minefield for the unwary. The basic rule seemed to be that if you wanted to buy a place in Scotland, you should have the cash ready and be prepared to shamelessly butter up the vendors. I think I prefer this system to the English version. It has a refreshing honesty about it. I think it was this morning where Colin’s resolve faltered and he converted to full English breakfasts for the rest of the week.
After breakfast I retired for some Foot Therapy but there was little to do in this respect as, for once, my feet were blister-free and in good shape. At last! A journal free of overly descriptive foot injuries. I had used the duct tape given to me by the lady in Fort William and I’m convinced it helped keep me blister free. I’m not sure it’s the healthiest thing to wrap your feet in, and peeling it off at the end of the day was a mixture of pain and unbearably ticklish moments but - I’m a convert. From now on I’m packing duct tape as an essential.

Whole lotta loch ....

We said our goodbyes and walked back down into Fort Augustus, past The Bothie, along a residential road and finally turned east into a forest. We were treated to our first real climb of the week, albeit nothing strenuous and we set about tackling the challenge eagerly. We soon left Fort Augustus far behind and below us and broke out of the tree line on a headland overlooking Loch Ness. It was our first real look at the famous Loch and we lingered for a while taking in the sight. The long undulating line of mountains on the opposite shore, the steely-blue waters of the loch, the forest that tumbled away before us, the unexpected silence that lent an air of gravity to the scene.
GGW Day4 Pic 1

Loch Ness

“I feel like I should be wearing a skirt,” said Bod, surveying the beauty of it all, and if he was moved enough to consider donning a kilt and becoming an adopted Scot then there is no more fitting tribute to the scenery that I can offer. Bod continued to scan the far shore as we walked, looking for the house that once belonged to Alastair Crowley (and then subsequently to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame). There were a couple of properties visible, obviously very grandiose even at a distance, which he believed to be likely candidates. Page had bought the house as a holiday retreat (presumably the fact that Crowley was reputed to have conjured up Satan within its walls was seen as a selling point). Jimmy was big into the occult at the time, by all accounts. It takes all sorts; he probably sold it once he had recovered from all that 1970’s substance abuse.
[ED: Bod was a few miles adrift - the house in question, Boleskine House , is located in Foyers some twenty miles further along the shore].
We carried on along an elevated track that wound in and out of forest with regular gaps in the trees allowing Loch Ness to continually appear and beguile us. Soon the trees began to grow in size until we were walking along cathedral-like aisles of majestic old pines, their high canopy throwing dappled shade onto us, with the great loch as an ever-present backdrop. It was all very bonny indeed.
We stopped at yet another vantage point and I filmed Bod and Colin taking photographs of the loch. Apart from the distant hum of the A82 the silence still hung heavy about us.
Bod looked at his camera in disgust. “It keeps focusing in on that f*ck*ng tree!” he exclaimed, rather ruining the ambiance.

Under Murkwood ....

After a brief lunch we continued along the forest track which took us steadily higher above Loch Ness. There were many picturesque waterfalls cascading down the side of the mountain and into the Loch, some were small tinkling affairs, others were more robust, sending out a fine spray to soak the passing hiker as they thundered impressively down through the steeply wooded hillside to empty into Loch Ness. At one such cascade Bod and I attempted to play Poohsticks
GGW Day4 Pic 2

Colin and Bod: Babes in the wood

from an old stone bridge that spanned the small gorge the tumbling water had created. It was a truly rubbish game of Poohsticks. Bod’s oversized branch immediately got wedged in the rapids and my more modest twig was swept away so fast we never saw it emerge from the other side.
We had climbed so high that the A82 was no more than a pale thread snaking along far below. The road more or less hugged the contours of the shoreline and it was obvious even from this distance that there was a fair degree of reckless driving taking place along it. Motorcyclists, in particular, seemed to think they were invulnerable as they zoomed along, cutting corners and opening up on the straights. We learned from the locals that the road was notorious for dangerous driving and there was always a sad crop of fatalities harvested each year. Many were overseas bikers, lured to the highlands by the promise of challenging roads and few policemen to monitor them. I was reminded of the fatal accident we came upon on the West Highland Way, where a young German biker had collided head on with a mini-bus at Glen Coe.
Apart from the occasional muted roar of a passing motorcycle the world was quiet and still because although we walked through forest all day there was little bird-song to be heard. The pine trees grew close together, shutting out the light so that the forest floor was in perpetual gloom. Thick carpets of pine needles prevented anything from taking a hold, so the presence of wild life was restricted. We walked along a section where a large chunk of the forest seemed to have burnt to the ground, broken stumps like stubs of charcoal studded the area and only an occasional tree had survived, standing exposed and partly scorched amongst the blackened mess. In all there was probably two acres of this destruction, which at first we assumed to be part of forestry clearance work but quickly realised that it had been an unplanned incident, either started accidentally or as an act of arson. Back in April Scotland had enjoyed a period of fine weather, bordering on drought conditions, and this had made the highland forests tinder-box dry. A considerable acreage of old woodland had been lost through untended camp-fires and discarded cigarette ends.
GGW Day4 Pic 3

Another fantastic view of Ness

A little further on I noticed Colin had left the track and was exploring the remains of an old logging road, just visible as a mossy green line cutting through the trees. It hadn’t been used for many years. I went further into the trees and under the dense canopy of the pines. For a few minutes I filmed my progress through the weird twilight, squeezing between the big trunks of the old trees that crowded together, and padding through inches-thick carpets of pine needles. Nothing grew there, not even moss, and the silence was almost oppressive. The word Stygian came to mind (not a word often used I admit and I only learned of it through reading endless Conan the Barbarian paperbacks when I was a kid, but it’s a good word nonetheless and should be used more, likewise penchant and flabbergasted) and it suited the scene perfectly. I was, indeed, in a Stygian gloom. It was certainly not the sort of place I would have liked to have found myself in late at night. I retraced my steps, noting that the change from murky dimness to bright sunshine was really quite marked. It was two completely different worlds existing within ten yards of each other.

Falling trees, over falls, falling into a bar ....

We knew that today was going to be the shortest walk of the week – a mere eight miles, and we were quite looking forward to having some time to hang out and relax so we were in good spirits as we drew near to our destination, Invermoriston, later in the morning. A Great Glen Way marker indicated a steep little track heading down to our right but a notice had been tacked to it informing us that we shouldn’t use the track due to ‘dangerously hanging trees’ and would we please take the indicated two mile detour uphill so as to avoid possible injury and\or death.
Well frankly, no. We wouldn’t.
We had set our hearts on eight miles today and eight miles it was going to be. After the briefest of debates we took the downhill track and through a cluster of tall pine trees that leaned drunkenly this way and that, propped up by their neighbours. A few had toppled over completely and lay in a wreckage of broken boughs
GGW Day4 Pic 3

Pleasant and easy walking

and smashed undergrowth, exposed roots pointing at the sky – a trees equivalent of turning its boots up. We were never in any real danger from the trees but the track itself, slick with mud, threatened to upend us at every step. We broke out of the trees and onto a metalled road that led us, under bright sunshine, into Invermoriston and to the sudden grandeur of the Moriston Falls. The river Moriston carved its way through this little village over a series of huge boulders in a display of white water and thundering kinetic poetry. An ancient stone bridge (constructed by Thomas Telford, no less) arched dramatically across the gorge, which itself was lined with banks of trees just starting to turn shades of autumnal yellow and brown. It was a totally unexpected sight and a brilliant finale to the days walking.
By comparison, after the drama of the falls, the village itself was unremarkable; a hotel, a shop, a straggle of houses and that was about it. It was more like a hamlet really, or a big waterfall with some houses attached to it, but it had a certain charm – not least of which was the hotel bar, which was open. Our B&B was practically next door to the hotel so we made for it only to discover that there was nobody home. In no time at all we somehow found ourselves seated at the hotel bar with pints of beer in hand talking to a friendly Scottish guy about our travels around his fair country. He pointed at a map of western Scotland and the Kintyre peninsula, tracing a finger down to its southern tip and tapping it on Campbeltown. “I want to go there,” he declared, “as I hear it’s really nice.”
Bod and Colin exchanged glances but decided to be honest.
“Actually no, it’s a dump.”
The guy had built himself a camper van, retired from work (he was 52 he informed us, several times) and spent his time driving around various parts of Scotland, stopping overnight wherever he could find a free place to park up in the wild. I asked him how he had managed to retire and he shrugged.
“Everything was paid for so I thought ‘stuff it’”.
Sounded like a plan to me.
The landlady was at home when we returned to our digs. She seemed to be trying to multi-task with limited success so her welcome and introduction routine was a little abbreviated. I was sharing with Bod tonight and we were shown to a comfortable twin room that was adjacent to the laundry room where the washing machine was in full spin. I hoped it wouldn’t be running all night. After showering I decided to grab 40 winks, leaving Bod to go and watch TV in the lounge and Colin to do whatever he does on such occasions.
GGW Day4 Pic 3

Invermoriston falls

I woke feeling refreshed and decided to tackle the landlady on the subject of laundry. I found her in the laundry-room, stressing quietly as she stuffed towels into a large dryer. I opened negotiations, fully expecting her to tell me where to get off but instead, for a modest sum, she agreed to wash my gear. Result! She was less happy when both Colin and Bod jumped on the bandwagon but she’d already set a precedent and couldn’t really refuse. Safe in the knowledge that I would not be wearing the same underpants for the rest of the week I watched TV in an upstairs room that was crammed full of scale models of Citroen 2CV’s. Somebody obviously had an obsession, which evoked memories of a guest house from several years before, the rooms of which were festooned with glassy-eyed clowns.
I much preferred the Citroens.
Colin has told me since that he was in a lot of discomfort with sore feet at this point and was starting to worry about finishing the walk. He hid it well but I think he was a victim of wearing old and trusty boots that had lost their support. It happened to me on Offa’s Dyke and the solution was expensive – good walking boots don’t come cheap.

Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make ....

Later,as we prepared to return to the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel for dinner I found myself talking to one of the other guests, a vaguely new age young lady, on the doorstep of the B&B. There were half a dozen young ladies in residence for the night and it transpired that they were part of the GGW Circus which we had been (almost) encountering throughout the week. Sure enough, as we spoke, the cheerful Kiwi servant turned up to make sure that her charges were being looked after and that the correct champagne had been ordered for their lunch the following day (or something like that). There were two dining areas at the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel, the posh room with the linen tablecloths and upmarket cutlery, and the cheap room near the bar with the wooden tables. Meals differed both in choice and price. We would have preferred the cheap and cheerful meal but the GGW Circus had already pre-booked and occupied all the available tables so we were ushered into the posh restaurant where we could peruse an expensive wine list which we had no intention of ordering from. In the end I opted for chicken stuffed with haggis, which is nowhere near as bad as it sounds.
We stayed on in the bar after dinner as there was a lively crowd and a group of local musicians had turned up and were playing a mixture of Celtic traditional and English folk music. Mark and Carol stood at the bar and chatted to us, and we had far more beer then was sensible given that we were walking in the morning. For a while we were amused by the good natured antics of a local character who was shamelessly (and drunkenly) chatting up two middle aged ladies whilst their po-faced husbands tried to ignore him. He was heroically Scottish, from the mid length red hair to the craggy features and ruddy complexion, and was obviously well known (and tolerated) by the bar staff.
Bod left early on in the proceedings claiming a bad stomach was keeping him awake at night and he wanted to try and get some decent sleep. I watched him leave with some trepidation – after all I was sharing a room with him. Colin and I consumed a few more beers and had a whisky or two with Mark and Carol and then I started chatting to the ‘local’ musicians only to discover that they were mainly from Liverpool and the Midlands with just one actual Scottish person amongst them. They were a good natured bunch and wanted to know where we were headed to next. When I told them it was Drumnadrochit they recommended another lively place called the Lever, promising us we would have a great time.
We left the hotel rather late and took the short walk back to the B&B in the dark, with the distant rumble of Moriston Falls keeping us company.
I hoped I would feel all right come the morning.
I hoped Bod would be okay during the night.

Daily Tweets

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Today has us beginning the walk alongside Loch Ness, which will be our companion for the rest of the walking week.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Residual headache may, or may not, be in direct ratio to the ale consumed last night. Absurdly short walk of 8 miles today. This may be something to rejoice in later, since the sky looks very low & dish-rag grey. Rain is intermittent, but enthusiastic.

Twitter from @Darkfarmowl (Mark)
Walking along Loch Ness today. Stunning views and even some sunshine.

. Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
A short walk through pleasant woodland, overlooking Loch Ness; I've had worse days. We arrived early at Invermoriston, so had time to kill.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
We've got familiar with a few other walkers over the week, mainly in bars during the evenings. Never seem to see them on the trail. Maybe we're the only silly buggers actually doing any walking. The rest of them are getting lifts to each town and B&B. I see the logic.

See Route on ......

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